Tailgates are a sacred ritual of Saturday afternoons in the fall. Scents wafting from the grill, footballs flying in the air and excited chatter coming from nearby radios often soothe fans waiting for kickoff. The traditional Blue Streaks football tailgate is one such happy event.
In recent years, much experimentation has been completed in conducting this football tradition. The results left something to be desired at times, however, leading to some recent changes.
This year’s Blue Streaks Game Day has a completely new feel. In an effort to drum up support and excitement in John Carroll University athletics, the tailgate has transitioned from a University-run event to one engineered and managed by the parents of Blue Streaks football players.
Jane Evans, assistant athletic director for external operations, has spent a great deal of time thinking about the tailgating experience. Over the course of her seven years at JCU, Evans has seen varying waves of interest in the program, outside of the always-passionate parents. She has long dreamt of creating a special atmosphere around Don Shula Stadium on Saturdays.
“The goal is to host a mini-version of ESPN Gameday for our football experience, and eventually broaden that into all of our outdoor sports – soccer, lacrosse, etc – on key dates,” Evans said.
Evans’ lofty goal is quickly becoming attainable.
A group of “enthused, interested and willing” parents, as Evans described them, have stepped up and taken responsibility for the tailgate. Working closely with the JCU athletics department, the coalition of parents has worked to make the transition a smooth one.
The two groups have also had a noted tailgate expert helping behind the scenes. Axel Hoyer, the father of Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, not only formed the weekly St. Ignatius High School football “Tailcats” tailgate, but also co-founded Michigan State’s Spartan Football Parents Association. Hoyer not only knows how to cook a mean bratwurst, but also how to organize a world-class tailgate. As the JCU parents began to plan out the logistics, Hoyer provided helpful guidance and advice every step of the way.
“They said that they needed a playbook,” Hoyer said. “I got involved and wanted to help them, the fine-tuning for people to get together on gameday.”
The first tailgate of the year, a joint venture with contributions from the parents, athletic department, alumni relations and the Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2013, was held in Chicago for the Blue Streaks’ opener against St. Norbert College on Sept. 7. The event turned out to be highly successful, with the tailgate supplying fun and the Blue and Gold providing a 41-0 win.
“We kicked off the season on a high note in Chicago,” Evans said. “We had a big tailgate in Chicago, with a different structure. But it went great.”
The following two tailgates, held before games against Otterbein University on Sept. 28 and Capital University on Oct. 5, also ran smoothly. Each featured appearances from the cheerleading squad, dance team and pep band, thus increasing the events’ popularity.
The new tailgating format will be put on full display on Saturday, Oct. 19. Blue and Gold Community Day, planned by JCU Athletics and Student Union, will be held before the Blue Streaks’ football game against Muskingum University at 1:30 p.m. In the midst of other festivities, the tailgate will offer food, fun and camaraderie.
As Hoyer said, tailgating is a special opportunity. “It’s a great way to enjoy what very few people are able to enjoy, and that’s watching their son play college football.”
“One word Axel talks about all the time is ‘fellowship’,” Evans said. “That’s what tailgating is all about.”